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Award 2021

Best Farm To Table 2021

New farm-to-table model

Thanks to innovative distribution channels created by enlightened chefs and enterprising wholesalers, a newly inclusive farm-to-table model is now being celebrated across Canada by discerning home cooks.

Before the pandemic, the term “farm-to-table” was often accompanied by blasé shrugs — overused and meaningless, some said. Any restaurant worth its salt would automatically be using the best products from small farmers and sustainable ranchers.

Of course, the blasé shrugs usually belonged to marketing types or johnny- come-latelies who hadn’t spent decades fostering those small-farm relationships and nurturing the juiciest heirloom tomatoes and pasture-raised pork for everyone’s benefit. Everyone, that is, except the general public, who still had to sort through the tasteless industrial agriculture passed off as artisanal at many markets.

The truth about the farm-to-table movement is that the cream of the crops wasn’t easily accessible to everyone. Its proponents were siloed into exclusive arrangements that mainly served the restaurant industry and operated separately from the regular food supply chain.

But when COVID-19 closed restaurants, the life was sucked out of that fragile ecosystem. Small farmers scrambled to find new markets. Conscientious chefs — some of whom had been by their side from the ground up — rightly worried if there would be any crops left to harvest when their doors reopened. And the distributors who had facilitated those connections found themselves with nothing to deliver.

Nature, as they say, abhors a vacuum. And from this hungry void, new systems of delivering local farm food to home tables manifested in similar ways across the country.

From Vancouver’s Burdock & Co. to Toronto’s much-missed Montgomery’s Grassroots, boxes and bags filled with hand-selected shoots, roots and heirloom legumes from multiple farms multiplied overnight. In Montreal, Normand Laprise turned Beau Mont restaurant into Signé Toqué, an upscale grocery counter selling aged beef and rare Gaspé-caught bluefin tuna that would normally never make it past his dining room.

This newly accessible harvest is a windfall for stay-at-home cooks. Then, distributors like Toronto’s 100km Foods and Vancouver’s Legends Haul upped the ante by turning their wholesale operations into retail services. Suddenly, the best meats, fish and vegetables previously available only to restaurants could be ordered online and delivered straight to your doorstep.

The farm-to-table movement has finally met up with the culture of convenience. And let’s hope there’s no turning back. Because as much as we miss restaurants, there has never been a more abundant time to cook in the comfort of your own kitchen.

Photography by Leila Kwok

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